History of concubinage
On the basis of polygamy marriage system, Zhou dynasty established a set of strict hierarchy formed with the emperors as the center and the imperial rank of wife and concubines. In the later dynasties, though the titles or the numbers of their concubines varied, the nature of such a system never changed and it always served as a tool for serving the supreme ruling clique. In ancient China, concubinage was a complex practice in which concubines were ranked according to their level of favour with the Emperor. Concubines’ situation ranged from well-treated pseudo-wives to poorly treated prostitutes(Jiao, 2003)
The imperial concubine system of the Zhou Dynasty In the feudal era, people often described the number of concubines as “three mansions, six courtyards, seventy-two concubines,” or “harem of three-thousand”. “Book of Rites,” records the imperial concubine system in the Zhou Dynasty as that the emperor has a 6-house empress, 3 ladies, 9 concubines, 27 waitresses, 81 wives, add up to 126 in all kinds of various names wives. This is the earliest written records of “imperial concubine system”
The concubines of the pre-Qin emperors come from different sources, some are the daughters of of high level officials and ministers, they are dedicated by their dads to the emperors; some are directly robbed by the emperors; The robbery is a source for imperial concubines, especially when the country was in a war with another country. The princess and other girls of the defeated country are easily captured by the other party, they become objects of collection in the palace.
In early August of each year, the court began to collect taxes and rent from the people. “Beauty” is also one item of the tax, and this collection is carried out every year. August of each year is the time for the collection of “good girl”, the court sent the Dafu, Yat Tingcheng, Xiang, three kinds of officials to the countryside around Luoyang, checking girls between the ages of 13 to 20 years In the officials sent to collect “good girl”, “Xiang” officer, should pay more attention. Xiang workers, must be eunuchs. Those who are being selected will be transported by car to the palace for further screening. Since the Han Emperor Liu Che, Hanyuan emperor Liu Shuangqi, the emperors start to know more about the women charm and they hole the belief that the more women, the better. Later, the number of women in the palace increased exponentially, far exceeding 3000.
Western Jin Dynasty
Sima Yan just established the Western Jin Dynasty regime. After he boarded the throne, he soon started to proceed with election of concubines and ordered the daughters of all the following military and civilian officials be sent to the palace. If anyone try to hide the girl, he was sentenced to death without charge. Before he had finished selecting the ladies, he forbidden people marrying g, so that all women of his age were kept for his first choice. In the following year, more than 5,000 daughters of subordinate officers and officials were ordered to enter the palace for him to pick, which almost led to the rise of people.
During the first year of the reign of Emperor Xuan zong of Tang Dynasty, the world was peaceful and wealth was abundant, reaching the heyday of the Tang Dynasty. At the same time, Xuanzong began to corrupt and fall. In order to enrich the harem, Xuanzong ordered: select the world good-looking woman into the harem, and named them “flowers and birds.” These stunning women, forced into the palace, became enslaved palace ladies . Due to the fact that women are recruited into the palace from the public every year, the number of palace ladies in the period of Kaiyuan and Tianbao increased sharply. There is a total of about 40000 women. Due to the developed economy and open thinking at that time, the system of harem was not very strict and some imperial concubines were actually born in the brothel, which was rare in later dynasties.
The System of Harem in Qing Dynasty and the Proceedings of Selecting Imperial Concubine
The rulers of the Qing Dynasty compared the pros and cons of the system of the harem in history and formulated the system of the harem of the Qing Dynasty according to the custom of the Manchu. There should be one Empress who lives in the center of the palace, one imperial Honorable consort , two Honorable consort, four consort, six consort in ordinary, there is no fixed number of honorable lady, lady in waiting and responder. As can be seen from the above brief description, the title of concubine is very different, we can see, to the reign of Emperor Kangxi, the harem system began to improve. In this system, a concubine could improve her situation by producing an heir (although their sons would be inferior to legitimate children), and could rise up the social ladder according to the favour of the ruler. One example of this was Consort Wu. She was the consort and favourite concubine of Emperor Zuanzong of China. Known for her beauty, she rose to the highest rank that a concubine could achieve(Yu, 2010),
The women generally selected from Manchu minority group, a few would be selected from the Han nationality. Xianfeng have selected a few Han Feet show women, called Peony Spring, apricot spring, martial arts spring and Begonia spring, known as the four spring consort. Manchu girls who are aged from 13 to 16 years have no physical disability are required to attend the screening.
Jiao J. Concubinage in Ancient China and Women’ s Status[J]. Collection of Womens Studies, 2003.
Yu, Cheng. “The Gentry Classes’ Ambivalence Embodied in Chinese Custom of Concubinage.” Journal of Henan University (2010).